1.0 Introduction

Somewhere, someday, sometime—all of us will experience the power of God when He raises our bodies from the dead. As surely as we die, we are going to be raised again—and as surely as we are raised, we are going to stand before God. It is not always easy to distinguish between the various judgments described in the Bible, but one thing is sure—every person is going to be judged. There is a day marked on the calendar of heaven when God shall judge the secrets of men (Romans 2:16). The writer of Hebrews says, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). There is nothing more certain than death, and neither is there anything more certain than judgment. No one is going to escape it or avoid it or run from it. All of us will face it. However, many people mistakenly believe that God’s judgment is the same for everyone. There are a number of judgments described in the Bible. The Scripture describes following three important judgments:

  • There is a “Judgment Seat of Messiah.”
  • There is going to be a judgment of “Nations”, and
  • The Great White Throne Judgment.

2.0 The Judgment [Bema] Seat of Messiah

The Greek word βῆμα (bēma) refers to a platform/rostrum for a judge or king. Pilate and Herod sat on these seats. We watch Olympics and amazed at the feats achieved by the bronze, silver, and most notably gold medal winners. The medal ceremony models a practice begun by the ancient Greeks, who instituted the Olympics in the eighth century B.C. A judge sat at what they called the Bema Seat at a respective race’s finish line. It was that judge who determined the winner and gave him an award immediately after the completion of the race.

The ancient Olympic victors received no medals. Instead, they received crowns made from olive leaves taken from what the Greeks considered the sacred tree at Olympia. The participant who finished in first place received a crown, as he personified the Greek concept of arête (excellence). Coming second or third gained nothing for a contestant.

Similarly, at the judgment seat of Messiah, born again believers are rewarded based on how faithfully they served Messiah (1 Corinthians 9:4-27; 2 Timothy 2:5). The Bible speaks of believers receiving crowns for different things based on how faithfully they served Messiah. The various crowns are described in 2 Timothy 2:5, 2 Timothy 4:8, James 1:12, 1 Peter 5:4, and Revelation 2:10. James 1:12 is a good summary of how we should think about the judgment seat of Messiah: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

Some of the things we might be judged on are how well we obeyed the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), how victorious we were over sin (Romans 6:1-4), and how well we controlled our tongues (James 3:1-9). This judgment will focus on how did we live after we came to Messiah? How committed were we to the cause of Messiah and doing his will? Did we live to please him or live to please ourselves?

Notice again that the quality of the work is being judged, not the salvation of the one doing the work. In 1 Corinthians 3:12–15 we read, “Now if any man builds on the foundation [Messiah] with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it [the foundation] remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

Even though our work may be burned up and we receive no reward for it, we ourselves will be saved. This is a reminder to us that it is not enough just to do work for the Lord, what is equally or probably more important is the foundation of the work. This encompasses things like why are we doing it? Whose glory are we concerned about, our’s or God’s? Are we building our kingdom or God’s kingdom? On that day not only will what we have done be judged but also the motivation behind it. Everything will be laid bare and there will be no hiding or escape. God will reveal the things that we cannot see, which includes the attitude of our heart in doing what we do for God.

Every person that sets out to do the work of the Lord does not always do it with the right motives or for the right reasons. While those types of people may be able to hide their motives now, when they stand before the judgment seat of Messiah there will be no hiding for everything will be uncovered. In 2 Corinthians 5:10 we read, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

This is a judgment of only saved people [who are born again]—not a judgment of our sins but an examination of our faithfulness during life on earth to determine our rewards in heaven and our eternal assignments. It is a reward seat and portrays a time of rewards or loss of rewards following examination, but it is not a time of punishment where believers are judged for their sins. It will occur between Rapture and the Next Coming of Messiah to earth, somewhere in the heavenlies in the presence of the Lord. This is evident from John 11:25-26; 14:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21 and 19:8. This is what the bema seat judgment is all about. So, the order of events will be (a) the rapture which includes our glorification or resurrection bodies, (b) exaltation into the heavens with the Lord, (c) examination before the Bema, and (d) compensation or rewards.

3.0 Our Response to the Judgement [Bema] Seat

We need to search our heart. It is very easy to slide into the position of doing things for the wrong reasons, which means we are building on wood, hay, or straw. These will not survive when God’s fire is put to them. This is especially true of people who stand in the ministry spotlight or positions of influence. When we are the people look up to or we are the leader then we must search our heart even more because we have greater responsibility and also greater temptations. More importantly, we will be judged at a higher level. Here is what James says.

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. James 3:1

The higher up we go or the more people we reach or influence the more we must check our heart. Get into the habit of always laying our heart bare before the Lord so he can reveal now what may be in there. Even more so as we recognize that we as well as all saved believers will experience the judgment seat of Messiah. Let this prayer be the continual prayer of our heart.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
 Psalm 139:23-24

It is far better to allow God to search our heart now and reveal what is in it so we can fix it now as opposed to waiting to that day and he reveal it, because we won’t be able to fix it then. Let us focus on doing his will, for his glory, and building his kingdom. If this is our focus it will always keep our heart in the right place and we will receive reward when we stand before the judgment seat of Messiah.

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